Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson has resigned her portfolio in the wake of the Pike River report released this afternoon - which called the disaster that claimed the lives of 29 men "preventable."
In a statement, Prime Minister John Key says Ms Wilkinson’s decision to resign is a personal decision in response to the magnitude of the tragedy.
"It is the honourable thing to do.
"I considered it proper for me to accept her resignation from the Labour portfolio," Mr Key says.
The Pike River Royal Commission is recommending a new crown agency be set up to focus solely on the country's health and safety.
The commission, chaired by Christchurch-based High Court Justice Graham Panckhurst, has released its findings almost two years after the November 19, 2010, explosion which killed 29 Pike River miners on the West Coast.
The recommendations include:
Setting up a new crown agency solely focused on health and safety. It would have an executive board accountable to a minister. It would be responsible for administering health and safety in line with strategies agreed with the responsible minister and should provide policy advice to the minister.
Setting up an effective regulatory framework for underground coal mining. This would include establishing an expert task force to carry out the work. Its members would include health and safety experts and industry, regulator and worker health and safety representatives, supported by specialist technical experts.
Better collaborartion by regulators to ensure health and safety is considered as early as possible.
A change in the crown minerals regime to ensure health and safety is an integral part of permit allocation and monitoring.
A review of the statutory responsibilities of directors for health and safety in the workplace to better reflect their governance responsibilities.
The health and safety regulator should issue an approved code of practice to guide directors on how good governance practices can be used to manage health and safety risks.
Directors should rigorously review and monitor their organisation's compliance with health and safety law and best practice.
Appropriate health and safety training for managers in underground coal mines.
The health and safety regulator should issue an approved code of practice to guide managers on health and safety risks, drawing on both their legal responsibilities and best practice.
An extension of the current regulations imposing general health and safety duties on the statutory mine manager to include detailed responsibilities for overseeing critical features of the company's health and safety management systems.
Worker participation in health and safety in underground coal mines should be improved through legislative and administrative changes.
The regulator should supervise the granting of mining qualifications to mining managers and workers.
Urgent attention needs to go on emergency management in underground coal mines. Operators should be required to have a current and comprehensive emergency management plan which is audited and tested regularly.
An urgent review of the implementation of the coordinated incident management system in underground coal mine emergencies.
Legislative support for the activities of the New Zealand Mines Rescue Service. The adequacy and fairness of the current levies imposed on the mines to fund the services also need to be reviewed.
- Operators of underground coal mines should be required to have modern equipment and facilities. This includes facilities suitable for self-rescue by workers during an emergcy.
The commission also wants legislation on worker participation to be strengthened, which means check inspectors appointed by the union should also be reinstated, but must have special expertise in underground coal mining.
Inferior to other countries
In the report, Justice Panckhurst says although the health and safety act remains generally fit for purpose, New Zealand's health and safety record is inferior to that of other comparable countries.
The rate of workplace fatalities is higher than in Britain, Australia and Canada; worse than the OECD average; and has remained static in recent years.
One of the report's diagrams shows that by 2009 there were nearly four workplace deaths in New Zealand for every 100,000 workers, compared to just over two for every 100,000 Australian workers.
Justice Panckhurst says the Pike River tragedy was preventable but administrative and regulatory reforms are urgently needed to reduce the likelihood of similar events.
"The Pike River tragedy contains lessons for government, regulators, employers and workers, especially in high-hazard industries such as coal mining, where the frequency of major accidents is low, but accidents can have catastrophic results."
He says the effectiveness of the mining inspectorate had been declining for many years and by the time of the tragedy, the Department of Labour only had two mining inspectors.
Earlier today, the prime minister labelled the report a sobering read and said in the interests of speeding up the process for everyone involved, the government would be adopting most of the recommendations.
Apologised to the families
Mr Key says the labour department has to acknowledge its part in regulatory failings identified by the report.
He apologised to the families of the 29 men who lost their lives in the tragedy and has described today as a particularly poignant and difficult day for them.
He says while the report lays much of the blame on the Pike River coal company, the department needs to recognise its role in the November 2010 tragedy.
"As head of that department, Kate Wilkinson made the right decision today."
However, he says it was a sad day to accept her resignation.
He says the report points out there has been an underground coal mining tragedy about once every generation and it must stop.
The government is now looking at ways not to repeat this sort of tragedy.
However, he has refused to play the blame game and point the finger at Helen Clark's Labour government for its part in the department's health and safety failings over the years.
He does not believe the department deliberately misled the minister over health and safety failings.
"Nor do I believe the minister ever knew there was a systemic failure in the department."